In many ways, Google Meet is a technical marvel, having been one of the first services to deliver a full-featured video conferencing software experience that functions entirely within a web browser. Google has steadily improved Meet with new features and improvements over the years, but it’s hard to recommend Google Meet as a first choice if you’re looking for a standalone video conferencing solution due to Zoom Meetings, our overall Editors’ Choice pick, offering similar tools. If, on the other hand, your organization has already standardized on Gmail and the other apps included with Google Workspace, Google Meet may be all you need for your long-distance video calls and meetings.
Google Meet’s Pricing and Plans
Google offers Meet as a free service, but you gain additional features when you pay for Google Workspace subscriptions. The free tier is functional for basic meetings, but it lacks meeting recording, noise cancellation, breakout rooms, polls, and other capabilities.
The basic Google Workspace subscription is dubbed Google Workspace Individual, but that’s not quite right because it’s really intended for organizations. It’s priced at $7.99 per user per month. The Individual plan adds all the Google Meet features we wanted to see in the free tier, plus it automatically saves meeting recordings to the organizer’s Google Drive. It also comes with 24/7 support. A 14-day, free trial is available if you want to explore these features before making a commitment. Bear in mind that you must have DNS domain information handy to associate with your Google Workspace account.
A Google Workspace Enterprise edition is also available for larger companies. This tier bumps the meeting participants from 100 to 500, and adds many other features to your Workspace accounts, most notably around security. However, you’ll need to contact Google to negotiate pricing for this version.
Getting Started With Google Meet
Google Meet is a browser-based app that doesn’t require any installation to use. Be aware, though, that you might miss out on some features if you don’t use Google Chrome—or its close cousin, Microsoft Edge. For example, both browsers support virtual backgrounds, but the environments aren’t available for either Firefox or Safari while using the same hardware.
The simplest way to get started is to navigate to the Google Meet homepage and click “Start Meeting.” From there, you can copy the invite link and send it to anyone else that should join.
On the other hand, if you are a Google Workspace user, you can also invite a group of folks using Google Calendar. Once you add an event, you have the option to add Google Meet to the invite. Alternatively, you can have the “Start Meeting” link automatically create a meeting in Google Calendar.
Google would like you to use Google Meet as part of a broader Google Workspace engagement. Still, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t extend love to Microsoft Office shops. There’s a plug-in extension that lets you create meetings directly from your Outlook calendar, but it’s only available for Windows-based PCs.
Meetings and Collaboration
Once you start up the Google Meet client, you’ll see a layout that will feel familiar if you’ve used any of the other video conferencing services. Along the bottom, you’ll see the meeting ID and typical media controls. The first two buttons are the ubiquitous mute audio and video for when you need to temporarily hide away from your coworkers.
If it’s your first time using Google Meet, you may be prompted to activate noise cancellation. Google’s implementation of this tech is quite good, and it even filtered out my dog barking on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, it’s not available if you’re using the free version.
Like Zoom Meetings, Google Meet supports closed captioning, and it’s a nifty in many ways. Although Google Meet lacks transcriptions—a feature we’d like to see Google add—it gives you near-real-time closed captioning, plus automatic translation to various languages, including English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. For meeting participants who struggle to communicate in the dominant language, this can be a lifesaver (not every service offers something similar). BlueJeans, the Editors’ Choice pick for multi-platform use, and Cisco WebEx, the Editors’ Choice pick for small businesses, are two other video conferencing services that do automatic translation well.
Using the Share button, you can present an entire screen, a window, or a single browser tab. Immediately to the right of that is a button that brings up additional options, such as launching a shared whiteboard that’s based on a Google application called Jamboard.
You can also change the layout of participant video feeds between tiled, spotlight, sidebar, and automatic. A unique feature is the ability to resize the tiles to fit your preferences. The tiles are set in stone in most other apps.
Special Effects, Security, and Other Features
You can apply visual effects to your feed, such as background blurring and virtual backgrounds. These work well, and we thought the algorithm Google uses to separate you from the background works notably better than competing services. Although you might notice a ghost-like effect in Zoho Meeting, Google maintained a level of clarity even on a less-than-stellar MacBook Pro webcam. Much of this was lighting-dependent, of course, but the difference between Google and its competitors on the same hardware is striking. There are also several animated backgrounds that apply lighting effects to the foreground. Google is really flexing some video-processing muscles here.
Google also has Meeting Companion Mode, a feature that enables people in physical meeting rooms to share a camera, and interact with the meeting via their laptop or mobile device rather than having one person drive. This is a killer feature for people who are tired of not being able to chat, send files, or be involved beyond sitting in a chair hoping to be heard.
Along this line, it’s worth noting that companies that have WebEx-compatible hardware can now use it with Google Meet. This might go a long way for companies with a significant investment in meeting hardware that want to make the leap to Google, but need another reason to do so.
Beyond visible features, Google Meet has made security a priority. Joining a meeting when you aren’t on the invite list requires that you “knock” before entering. You can’t join before the meeting host admits you. There are additional anti-hijacking capabilities that work behind the scenes for both web meetings and telephony dial-ins. To top it off, Google’s 10-character meeting codes make brute-force attacks to gain access to your meetings even more difficult. All of these features help prevent the attacks that are sometimes known as “Zoom bombing.”
If You’re Game for Google Workspace, You Can’t Go Wrong
Google Meet made many advances since 2020, and is now one of the top video conferencing options. Although Meet doesn’t do automated transcription, Google tells us this feature is on the horizon, and even then, its lack shouldn’t turn you away. The major drawback comes if you’re not already a Google shop. If your organization is fully invested in Microsoft Office, which now includes Microsoft Teams, this might not be the product for you. However, if you’re just looking for a general-purpose video conferencing service, you can’t go wrong with Zoom Meetings, our overall Editors’ Choice pick.